THE LIFE, Cy Coleman’s hit musical from 1997, made its London debut last night in a new production at The Southwark Playhouse. Despite Southwark’s tiny stage, the show is making a huge impact. Here’s what the critics are saying:
Jonathan Baz, Jonathan Baz Reviews: ★★★★★
Scorchingly unmissable, THE LIFE is one of the finest shows in town!
It’s taken twenty odd years for Michael Blakemore, who directed the show’s Tony-winning Broadway premier to bring it to London and his maturity and wisdom is evident in this carefully nuanced production’s impact. Slick movement matched with a simple design motif… combine to create an ingenious treat.
Mark Shenton, The Stage: ★★★★
It’s a thrusting, strutting show, gritty, dark and edgy… Coleman adorns it with one of his most scintillating jazz-based scores, stunningly played by a very generous 11-piece band under Tamara Saringer.
Dazzling choreography by Tom Jackson Grieves and evocatively seedy sets by Justin Nardella… Best of all is the exceptionally strong casting, led by a ferocious Sharon D. Clarke.
Ann Treneman, The Times:
Clarke, statuesque and formidable, is some kind of fabulous in this production of the award-winning Cy Coleman musical. This is the UK premiere of the 1990 show and, though it deserves a bigger stage than anything Southwark can muster, the music remains a fantastic jazzy blues, with lashings of showbiz thrown in.
Top-notch, heartfelt and gutsy performances… then there’s the music which, strike up the band, is hard to beat.
Nicky Sweetland, London News Online:
Gritty yet surprisingly funny… The ensemble numbers, performed by the exuberant supporting cast, become a riot of noise and color, which perfectly replicates the busy nightlife of New York.
THE LIFE is a real classic with an important message about loyalty — and with a fabulous score and excellent cast, the production at Southwark Playhouse is a must-see for fans of musical theatre.
Dom O’Hanlon, London Theatre: ★★★★
It’s a delight to watch. Tom Jackson-Greaves’ choreography is sharp, expressive and fiercely delivered. This is a tightly drilled ensemble who feel secure in the space and perform with a punctuated musicality that radiates joy. Vocally, it’s spot-on with Sharon D. Clarke leading the pack in terms of dramatic grit and ferocious honesty. Thoroughly entertaining!
Katy Pryer, The Upcoming:
Both a love letter to those tragic creatures that reside in the city’s underbelly and a lament for the old Times Square… With glittering costumes, brilliant lyrics and powerful vocals, though it’s been 20 years since its last outing, THE LIFE is very much still alive and well.
Karl O’Doherty, The Reviews Hub: ★★★★★
Rough, Tough, Just About Perfect… a complex, kinetic, resonant musical that packs more information and inspiration into it than many three-part series…
There’s some incredibly powerful stuff happening in this piece… the cast, director, and writers have managed to carve seven unique, memorable and intriguing female characters out of that seedy and wretched world and present them sympathetically.
It presents a diverse range of incredibly powerful women and makes no judgment, portraying variety in appearance and shape in a very body-positive way. It’s something we deserve a lot more of on London stages.
Clive Burton, Theatre World,
Coleman was the musical genius behind SWEET CHARITY, his hit stage musical about the lives of dance hall hostesses, that was later to become a cult movie starring Shirley MacLaine. His score for THE LIFE is no less melodic, infusing jazz-inflected rhythms with up-beat show tunes, rousing gospel music and heartfelt ballads to give principals and ensemble alike the chance to shine. And shine they do…
Every audience member will be captivated by such an exuberant production of this triumphant milestone of late-20th Century musical theatre.
Henry Hitchings, The Standard: ★★★★
A full-blooded production that’s comparatively modest in dimensions but not in ambition. It’s a brutal and sometimes gut-churning story of desperate individuals lurking on the fringes of New York’s Times Square.
An eleven-piece band exuberantly relays the mixture of jazz, funk and gospel in Cy Coleman’s surging score. Ira Gasman’s lyrics are often pin-sharp, and the performances pulsate with vitality.
Chris Omaweng, London Theatre: ★★★★★
What a magnificent and sensational production this is!
THE LIFE plays through April 29th at the Southwark Playhouse in London.
THE LIFE is licensed for performance exclusively through Tams-Witmark. For more information, visit the show’s info page.